All entries for November 2015

November 29, 2015

Grounded Theory Literature Review: Progress!

Progress has been made in this aspect of the Grounded Theory study. The traditional aim of the literature review is to provide a full analysis, synthesis and critical evaluation of existing literature (both theoretical and empirical) in order to develop an argumentation or a series of arguments pertaining to the need and requirement of the proposed research. Further, the literature review shows where there are knowledge gaps, places the proposed research therefore in a suitable theoretical and practical context, and demonstrates the uniqueness and originality of the research. A typical product of a literature review is a theoretical model or framework of investigation that is usually imposed upon the research itself or in other words the research is led by this theoretical framework that is developed from the literature (or other existing theories and models, or a mixture of everything).

Grounded Theory is different from many other qualitative research methods and therefore the literature review and the literature are dealt with in substantially different ways than these other methods. Grounded Theory is an inductive research methodology therefore the theory, theorisation, theoretical framework (or whatever: literature appears to use the terms interchangeably) occurs from the actual analysis of the data and not deductively constructed from the literature therefore there are no pre existing frameworks or frameworks developed from the literature imposed upon the data analysis. In other words, within the context of Grounded Theory the analysis of the data is not framed or set within a particular framework or theoretical perspective; the analysis is not led by existing theories, but is led by careful interpretation of the researcher.

Therefore, the role of the literature review changes from providing a basis for the development of a theoretical framework (typically) to purely providing the means to state the case of the research. The role of the literature also changes: not only are certain sets of literature used to contribute towards understanding the need of the research and what existing research states, but also certain sets are used within the constant comparison method itself as further data. Literature itself can therefore be used as data and can be analysed along with all other data types within a Grounded Theory context.

Learning about this is continuous however I fully understand now that anything can be used as data. Specifically with the literature, the key is not to discard it completely as suggested by some authors but to use it in a way that carefully contributes toward an effective process of theory or theorisation generation. As can be imagined, the literature around this specific topic is an absolute minefield, but it is Charmaz and her book on Constructivist Grounded Theory that was key to understanding the way that literature should be used, and confirmed my previous thoughts about the role of literature within Grounded Theory.  Charmaz argues that it is not that existing literature and frameworks should be ignored, but that they should be used in a certain way that increases reliability and validity of the Grounded Theory development.

A breakthrough occurred during the past week in terms of not just understanding the role of the literature review within a Grounded Theory study, but the content of the literature review and the purpose of the literature within that review and within the data analysis itself. Of course, all these ideas will need to be confirmed by the Supervisor and I have been sending him fairly extensive emails. In summary I have been able to outline a structure of the literature review and be able to describe the purpose of each section, and starting to understand the way in which the literature can play its part in increasing the validity and reliability of the findings of the Grounded Theory research. This breakthrough was based on developing a clearer understanding of what “theoretical sensitising” actually means: with Grounded Theory research, the literature can be used to increase theoretical sensitivity or in other words increase the researcher’s sensitivity towards particular general constructs or concepts and not actual specific activities or processes as determined by a pre existing framework or theory. Essentially, this means that a researcher becomes aware of particular concepts and constructs that might occur in the data but not actually impose a particular framework upon the analysis. Being theoretically sensitive towards concepts and constructs differs from actually imposing a particular framework or theory upon data analysis, but I shall leave this for another blog post at some point in the future. Additionally using Grounded Theory shall have an impact on the way that the thesis shall be structured compared to the structure if any other type of method or methodology was used but again shall discuss this more in future blog posts.

Goodness, that’s a lot of thinking going on!

‘Till next time folks, remember: it’s the beginning of Advent and if you’re going to start telling seasonal jokes make sure you pull a cracker of a joke!

Initial thoughts on the methodological issues of integrating quantitative and qualitative data

Regular readers will have probably noted the discussions I have made (or starting to make) about the Philosophical difficulties of integrating quantitative and qualitative data in a single research study, relating mostly to the fact that quantitative is usually associated with the Positivist perspective whilst qualitative is usually associated with the Interpretivist perspective. But what I have not really touched upon at all are the difficulties of the methodological perspective (yes: there are Philosophical difficulties AND methodological difficulties, and both appear to be related to each other: check earlier blog entries that discuss relationships between Philosophy and Methodology). The methodological perspective is beginning to gain more attention as I come to understand Grounded Theory, and a couple of questions that have come to me are: what methods are appropriate for data integration? Along with, which methods are suitable for my research?

With the data collection this is no longer a problem: a mixed data questionnaire shall collect both qualitative and quantitative data and an extra method or couple of methods shall be used to gather more qualitative data. Quantitative data shall be analysed using a series of different statistical methods (descriptive statistics and also methods to identify and analyse relationships between different identified variables), whilst qualitative data shall be analysed using a series of analytical methods inherent to Grounded Theory processes (though there are some debates about the usefulness of some methods depending on the context of the research). Essentially, Grounded Theory involves interpretation of the collected data, and to develop codes and categories using the coding methods in order to explain or describe what is actually going on within the data. These codes and categories are developed for each qualitative data set and then compared across each set using a method called “constant comparison.”

Describing the “constant comparison” technique is way beyond the purpose of this blog post, but it suffices to say that it is used as a mode of comparing codes and categories across data sets as part of the process of continuous and simultaneous data collection and analysis, in order to develop a theory or to theorise about what is going on within the data. It’s a bit more complicated than that but for now that’s the best way that it can be described rather briefly. The point I am trying to make here is there has to be a way to generate codes and categories from statistical, quantitative data in a way that is comparable and compatible with codes and categories generated from qualitative data, in order for constant comparison to be utalised across all data sets produced from all data collection methods. If this is possible within my own research, then the theory or theorisation that shall occur as a result of analysing and integrating different data sets shall increase its reliability, validity, and possibly even generalisability. But this is something that I shall need to work out and perhaps it might be related to the quantitative methods: could I create comparable and compatible codes and categories from descriptive statistics? Could comparable and compatible codes and categories be generated from relational descriptive data analysis such as, say, the likes of ANOVA? What about regression analysis? Are codes and categories even meant to be compatible and comparable across differing data sets? If not, then in what way can a theory or theorisation even begin to happen if these codes and categories cannot integrate? What, exactly, is required to develop a theory or theorisation from a complete and cohesive collection of data? In what way can a collection of data be considered complete and cohesive? Does any of that even matter?

There are many many issues and problems, debates and perspectives relating to Philosophy and Methodology of data integration that shall have to be considered, and as you can imagine I shall probably banter on about them on here as and when I come across them! Regardless I do have the belief that I can create comparable and compatibles codes and categories across all data sets. I have the belief that Positivism and Interpretivism in some way can complement each other rather than compete with each other. But I do not know this for sure at this time: this time next year I might have a completely different picture of the way that Grounded Theory works and the way in which integration of quantitative and qualitative data can happen and should be appropriate for the context of my research. But that’s the way research forms and develops!

November 20, 2015

Weekly Ramblings: first run through of Kathy Charmaz's book!

This week I have given Kathy Charmaz’s book “Constructing Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide through Qualitative Analysis” a first reading run through. The first reading run through is to mean an attempt at attaining a consensus or understanding as to the suitability of this flavour of Grounded Theory to my own (majority) qualitative research. From the first reading, I can confirm that this approach to Grounded Theory is very suitable for my own research project and the way that I perceive research and its role in understanding processes and reality itself. Reasons and arguments for this are in development, but I shall try to be as brief as I can with this blog post (Me, brief? Haha!)

Can a researcher really stand in a purely objective position when it comes to analysing their data? Can a researcher really detach themselves from their own perspectives of reality and their own subjective notations of reality and really analyse the data from an objective position? Can or should a qualitative researcher (important question for my own research) detach themselves from their own perspectives and consider only the perspectives of their participants? What is the role of the perspectives of the qualitative researcher, and what impact could these perspectives have on the research itself?

Constructivist Grounded Theory places both the researcher and participants’ perspectives as central to investigating the phenomenon of research interest. Charmaz takes the position that because of the constructivist, interpretivist style of Constructivist Grounded Theory, what is being constructed is an interpretation of the data or, in other words, what is being constructed is a theorising of the data, not a theory itself, through analysing and interpreting the data leading to the construction of codes and categories that explains what is going on, along with identifying and analysing relationships between these categories, memo writing processes, and saturating these categories till theoretical saturation has been achieved. This leads into subjectivity and not objectivity because there are no predetermined theoretical frameworks or theories being imposed upon the researcher’s lens of analysing the data, therefore the researcher simply analyses the data and interprets the data through developing those codes and categories that describes that the data an abstract level. There is no testing or experimentation of existing theories but there is a sense of inductive theoretical development through forming mini hypotheses as a result of analysing the data followed by testing these mini hypotheses through further data collection and analysis, which contributes to further theorising of the data and eventually leading to theoretical saturation.

What do I think of all this? Exciting in a way because I would not be imposing any theoretical frameworks or existing theories onto my analysis of the data, and I like this because I have always felt that if I used an existing theory or model of the learning process I would be quite limited in what I can really analyse and observe and this is something that I have picked up as a fundamental methodological problem in other literature. It is scary, there is no doubt about that, but I feel that this approach, and the flavour of Grounded Theory, is right for the context of my own research. Additionally, and as I said before, I am beginning to reject the notion of an objective reality. Being an interpretive or constructivist myself, I find that Constructivist Grounded Theory is compatible with my own perspectives of reality, and also the context of my research. My research is exploring a connection between Philosophy and Education (with Psychology and Technology thrown in) that has not really been considered, or theorised, much about before therefore it would probably be quite impossible to apply existing theories into my own research including the combination of existing theories. A new theory, or a new area of theorising, needs to be developed, and that is exactly what I am setting out to achieve. As I said, it is a scary approach, but at the same time the freedom of intellectual creativity and development inherent in Grounded Theory excites and fascinates me, and I am sure that I shall have a lot of fun with it, as well as head banging against the keyboard moments!

There might be a slight problem however: the questionnaire instrument that I have created is predominantly quantitative: most of the questions that I ask are of a variety that entails the collection of quantitative data, with the aim of exploring and identifying relationships between various constructs (variables) of the phenomenon being considered. I might have to increase the number of qualitative research questions in order to use this as further data for the qualitative analysis (Constructivist Grounded Theory can use a variety of text based documents as data: including extant literature), or find some way in which quantitative data could be used within a Constructivist Grounded Theory approach given that the original authors of Grounded Theory (Glass and Strauss) have suggested that Grounded Theory works with quantitative and qualitative data. Perhaps I might have to create my own interpretation of the Grounded Theory method that includes ideas from both Charmaz and Glass and Strauss. Books from other flavours of Grounded Theory shall be read through soon and I shall try to consider ways in which they could be included in my own version of Grounded Theory and whether or not this really is applicable.

As ever, lots to do, and as I have said I have given the book a first read through of specific chapters. The following readings of the book shall simply increase my understanding of the way to use Constructivist Grounded Theory in my research, and why it is applicable. The various arguments for and against this method and other methods shall be complimented by a full exploration of other relevant literature that explores the many aspects of Grounded Theory particularly Constructivist Grounded Theory. Along with thinking about the way that features of other flavours of Grounded Theory could be used whilst staying true to an interpretivist, constructivist perspective but if I have to shift along the Ontological and Epistemological spectrum towards the middle range of perspectives then that is what I shall do: I shall simply let the existing literature guide my thinking on this and try not to fit everything wthin any preexisting conceptions that I might have. Flexibility is a key characteristic of a Grounded Theorist or of any researcher, and this is something that needs to be heeded.

So then, where did I put my candles and coffee?

‘till next time folks, stay grounded, and theoretical, constructively speaking!

November 12, 2015

The Epistemology of Grounded Theory: brief thoughts on intial readings

During the past week, I shall admit, I have found the prospect of using Grounded Theory to be a little bit daunting. Books and other literature written by Strauss and Glaser, Strauss and Corbin, and Charmaz are the key literature in defining different main flavours of Grounded Theory, and whilst they all share commonality on some aspects of Grounded Theory (e.g., that it leads to some sort of new theory) they differ significantly on others (e.g., placement and role of the literature, what is actually produced, and epistemological positioning). The key understanding that I currently have on Grounded Theory from the literature that I have read so far and continue to read is that the application of Grounded Theory is extremely diverse and can be suited to fit the research agenda. That’s not to say, however, that Grounded Theory can be twisted and distorted completely out of proportion and original conceptions too much, but it is to say that it appears to offer a very flexible implementation and according to some of the Ph.D. theses I have had a read through that uses Grounded Theory, not every feature and instruction of Grounded Theory needs to be implemented. It really depends on the context and direction of the research. Understandably therefore, there is a myriad of literature which argues for and against different flavours of Grounded Theory, present different versions of Grounded Theory, applies and argues for and against different features of Grounded Theory, and tackles an assortment of different characteristics of Grounded Theory such as validity, reliability, rigour and limitations. Another important aspect of Grounded Theory and something that I shall probably need to tackle first in the thesis is the Epistemological orientation of Grounded Theory.

Epistemology, which is a branch of Philosophy that tackles the understanding of what knowledge is, the way we acquire knowledge of reality and the sources used to acquire this knowledge, might appear to be completely irrelevant to a particular research project but it is very important to be able to tackle epistemological problems of Grounded Theory or any other research method that you choose to adopt. This is because Epistemology in research deals with methodological problems and considerations around the way that particular method or methodology collects data and understands the way in which knowledge of reality should be acquired. This is something that is not really tackled in Ph.D. theses according to commentary from some Professors, so this is an area that I am keen to explore to a much greater depth than I had considered during the first year.

Remember that methodology defines the overall umbrella of the research design. A research design can therefore be experimental or quasi-experimental (therefore quantitative) or either of a selection of different qualitative methodologies such as case based or phenomenology. Quantitative data is usually associated with Positivist or Post Positivists perspectives of reality (that reality is fixed and knowledge is already there therefore easily obtainable through deconstructing this reality into a series of statistically calculable variables and their relationships) whilst qualitative data is associated with Interpretivist or Constructivist perspectives of reality (where it is believed that reality is not fixed or constant and therefore people construct different realities or different perspectives of a particular phenomenon). It is quite important for me to understand and further develop my understanding of this because Grounded Theory can work with both, and this is where I have found Grounded Theory to be a little daunting (as well as its actual application but this is another matter for another blog post and the more I read the more I am understanding its application anyway but it all takes time) because for many months I have read textbooks that suggest Grounded Theory is or should be associated only with an Interpretivist or Constructivist perspective. So to read that this is actually incorrect and that the original authors of Grounded Theory, Strauss and Glaser, intended it to be used with both quantitative and qualitative data, was quite interesting indeed and again this is an area that I need to understand further. This is made all the more interesting when Grounded Theory is used as a method of analysing qualitative data within a Mixed Methods methodology. With Mixed Method methodologies, the epistemological position is Pragmatism; therefore, there comes epistemological issues with the fact that an interpretivist or constructivist epistemologically based method is being used within a design that is inherently pragmatic.

Confused yet?!

There is a plethora of literature that argues back and forth, forwards and backwards about the epistemological stance of Grounded Theory. Without a doubt, I shall have to get to grips with this literature further, and through this understanding of the literature develop a particular stance and argue this stance in the thesis. This is important as there appears to be a general consensus for all Ph.D. candidates regardless of research method and methodology to involve themselves and really explore and argue epistemological positions, the compatibility issues, and so on.

A current initial thought of mine is that Grounded Theory could be viewed as a general interpretivist methodology, as it has been suggested in some Ph.D. theses that what is actually developed is an interpretation or perspective of the data, and not actually a strict theory.

This is just the beginning.

‘tii next blog post, remember children: don’t believe everything you read in your textbooks at school, but at the same time don’t challenge your teachers about it because you’ll get detention and be accused of being disruptive and unteachable (just kidden!)

November 06, 2015

Weekly Ramblings Part Two: Literature Review and Literature Reading

Welcome to the second part! You ready? Previous blog post didn’t put you off? Excellent! The other major activity that I have been involved with this week is thinking about the literature review and reading through the literature that I have been collecting.

The literature review

As the regular readers (if there are any, hello out there!) shall probably know by now (I’ve been going on and on about it and shall do for the time being) I’ve been thinking about the literature review for a while: its structure, content, and general approach to it. I had been thinking earlier the previous year about adopting a Critical Interpretive Analysis approach to constructing a literature review but I have now realised this is not going to work. This is because the Critical Interpretive Approach from what I can understand is not compatible with the Grounded Theory approach that I have now decided to use as the general research methodology.

What has to be remembered when writing the Ph.D. thesis is that the construction of the literature review must be compatible with whatever research methodological approach is utalised. You cannot write a meta analysis literature review (which is a quantitative approach to analysing literature) if your research methodology is qualitative as it just would not work and would be incompatible, from my current understanding. The Critical Interpretive Analysis would have resulted in a theoretical or conceptual framework developed from the findings of existing literature, which could have been used to lead the research directions and subsequent discussions; however, Grounded Theory opposes the use of a theoretical framework in this way because it advocates an inductive, theory building approach and not a deductive approach or an approach where some sort of preexisting theoretical framework is used to drive analysis of the data.

The approach to and purpose of the literature review must therefore change, and I do have ideas that I am developing with regards to this but shall have to read more literature on Grounded Theory and its application within existing Ph.Ds. for further assistance and examples.

Literature Reading

Excellent progress during the week and I have worked out now what learning models referring to various learning processes that shall be analysed, critiqued, compared and contrasted in order to find similarities and differences. The critiques and reflections shall be used then to provide reasoning as to why the foundations of all of these models have been incorrectly built and why they do not really capture the full and true essence of the learning processes they are attempting to model or theorise about. Indeed, I’ve come across literature that has applied some of these models and they concur that some of these models really don’t capture that full essence. Obviously there is still lots to read and search as I have to show evidence that I have exhausted the literature as much as possible until I reach literature saturation point, which is the point where I can reasonably conclude that findings across literature demonstrates particular patterns across the different areas of investigation interests.

Along with all the reading I’ve also written extensive notes, and this is a brilliant idea to do so because as reading progresses there shall always be opportunities and possibilities to develop ideas so it is always best to write everything down and not discard anything. 

In all it’s been an interesting week with that discussion about Social Justice and the ideas that have been continuously developed as a result of continuous reading. ‘Till next time, make sure you check your bonfires for animals, and try not to get too close to fireworks, and if you are attending any events this weekend do be safe and have fun!

Weeky Ramblings Part one: Social Justice

I had an interesting conversation during the week that involved the concepts of Social Justice and Social Action, and the way in which these play a part in the role of the outreach programs offered by churches and in the way that churches can reach out to the wider community and promote an equal, tolerant, and just society. Yes, ok, that’s Theology and you’re probably reading my research blog wondering why I am talking about Theology when my Ph.D. is all about Education. It’s all relative, people, you just have to be open minded enough to view the connections: I can take the concepts discussed at that meeting and apply it to my Ph.D. This blog post shall focus on Social Justice. I shall talk about Social Action another time when I have formed initial thinking around that.

Social Justice can be and is discussed in the context of Education’s role in providing an equal and just society. Former Labour leader, Prime Minister and Labour Chancellor Gordon Brown remarked at a speech at the University of Greenwich in 2007 that “Education is the greatest Liberator mankind has ever known and the greatest for social progress.” The now current Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron remarked in the same year that, “without good Education, there can be no social justice.” However, when it comes to politicians and Education, what is defined as a “good Education” and its link to social Justice differ among political parties and no doubt members within each party.

So what does all that mean exactly for my research? This is very early in my thinking as it’s only in the past week that I have been thinking about this, but essentially I could use Social Justice as a means of evidencing the need and usefulness of my research. In what way could technology enhance Education’s role in Social Justice? What has the impact been so far? In what way could the specific learning processes that I am investigating be further considered and developed to enhance Education’s role in Social Justice? What benefits would a new theory or a new perspective of learning processes enhance Education’s role in Social Justice? In what way could my research move forward in the future beyond the Ph.D. to develop Education's role in providing an equal and just society? This is quite an important consideration given that countries should be united in this approach of developing a just and equal society, through effective Education. But what does this all mean, and in what way can this really be achieved?

Whatever is the case, the idea is to explain the way in which that my research could be considered as improving Education’s role in Social Justice and ensuring that we have individuals who are liberated from any restricted confines of learning barriers and therefore promoting a more just and equal society.

Ok that’s just some brief ideas and thinking that I have been considering very recently and obviously these ideas need to be further developed and deemed appropriate, but it is quite interesting to view my research and Education in general from this perspective!

November 01, 2015

Grounded in theories; surrounded by literature!

Have now recovered from yesterday’s drinking shenanigans and from the Zombie infestation of my local town (not just your typical Saturday night crowd!) though I did managed to escape the housing area without being mauled by little zombies and werewolves! Did I dress up for Halloween? Nope, but I went as myself: the Hairy Cornishman, and after receiving a couple of compliments from women I was beginning to believe it was my birthday, not Halloween! Anyway, that was yesterday: it’s now time to get back to more serious things such as my work. Grounded in theories; surrounded by literature? Absolutely!

Progress on Grounded Theory

Until very recently I have held the belief that Grounded Theory is a qualitative only research method; that theory could only be developed through developing categories and codes based on text based data. I have since come across a couple of research papers that states that Grounded Theory doesn’t just work with qualitative data as it can also work with quantitative data. This took me by surprise, so after more reading into the subject I found that Grounded Theory had been originally defined as being compatible with both quantitative and qualitative data. I then sent an email to my supervisor about this and he said that it was an excellent observation that I made with regards to Grounded Theory being compatible with both data types therefore I am guessing from this that there is a fair percentage of Ph.D. candidates who use Grounded Theory that are not aware of the fact that it is compatible with both qualitative and quantitative data.

It makes you realise that there are authors and academics that use terms interchangeably and apply different meanings to these terms depending on contexts. As an example of this, particular learning models that explore certain aspects of learning can be defined as exploring another aspect of learning such as critical thinking models have been defined by some authors as models of interaction. Another example is where a theory has been incorrectly defined as a framework, and a framework has been incorrectly defined as a theory. Perhaps there needs to be more standardisation in the meanings of what exactly a framework is or what exactly a theory is because this apparent lack of standards and definitions and the apparent interchangeable terminology could easily confuse those who do not have their wits about them.

Surrounded by literature!

Lots of it, lots and lots and lots and lots and you get the picture (or the book, or research paper!). The main reading activities at the moment involve empirical papers that are most likely going to have a role in the development of the literature review and the methodology chapters. These are papers that describe the development of particular analytical models, and papers that describe the implementation of these models across varying learning contexts and environments in relation to the use of certain technology to support particular learning processes. I have written extensive notes (pages and pages) and continue to do this with regards to the methodologies and methods that have been used to explore online learning processes in terms of their usefulness, the uses, and limitations of these methodologies and methods, and what other methods and methodologies could be used to enhance existing research. Similarly I have made extensive notes on the way that various analytical models have been implemented and used across various subjects and contexts. These contexts have included different instructional tasks and their design, and different subjects, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level although focussing on exploring literature based on postgraduates first as these shall be the focus of the Ph.D. research.

The aim is to provide a full comparison, contrast, analysis and synthesis of all these different models that explore different aspects of particular learning processes and give reasoning as to why existing models are not totally accurate or comprehensive enough, and to therefore provide reasoning as to why a new model or theory needs to be developed.

An important aspect of all this is to keep documenting ideas: for an average empirical paper, I can write on average a couple of pages of notes but I can write much more than I do. At the moment I am just documenting ideas as they come to me as I read but eventually when the reading of empirical papers has gone beyond a particular point (can’t read forever!) I shall then go through the notes and expand upon the ideas. Eventually after analysing and synthesising ideas that have been documented I can then begin forming a proper structure to the literature review and the methodology chapters.

So, not much to do then! It’s all fun, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment when you have come out with even just an idea. The trick (or treat) is not to worry about quantity but think about the quality. It is much better to write less and have more quality ideas than have pages and pages of what could prove to be meaningless dribble, but at this stage this is not of a concern: the idea is to document every idea and thought, and either remove them or expand upon them when I go through the notes. It is a carefully constructed process, and no step can be missed else mistakes shall happen. It can feel a little chaotic as you have pages of ideas around in what appears not to be very cohesive or consistent ordering, but that’s the way all learning journeys begin and progress: it is only later in any learning process that you begin to make sense of everything.

Keep going, and never give up!

‘till next time: trrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrick or trrrrreeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaat!

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